One of the first calls I received after reporting for duty as a United States Navy JAG in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was from a family in Burlington County, New Jersey. The week before the call the family had buried their Grandfather. The Grandfather had been a WWII Navy vet. After the funeral they looked at his Will and found that his estate plan included a burial at sea. They wanted to know what to do.
The reality of a military funeral is that you have to let people know what you want when you are alive. After your death, with the commotion of traveling family members and the stresses of your death, your written instructions in a Will or in other places are easily misplaced. Once you are buried in the family plot or cremated, it is too late to arrange for an honor guard or burial at sea.
After clearly communicating your burial arrangements, you can also take steps to put the pieces in place so you get what you want. After all, it is your funeral. If you are on active duty or a military veteran you are eligible for a military-style funeral and to be buried in a national cemetery.
First, visit http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil. There you will find information about your eligibility for different types of military services. Most service members are eligible for at least a two member honor guard, a flag, and the playing of ‘Taps” during the funeral. Other arrangements, such as the firing of honor salutes, maybe arranged.
Second, most arrangements for the military funeral are made through the funeral director. They should know whom to contact since the system is built around the funeral director making the arrangements. Communicate with your funeral director and verify he is familiar with the arrangements.
Third, make sure your discharge papers are available and easy to find. You will need to prove your service and that you were not dishonorably discharged. If you can’t find your discharge papers, list your dates of service, your branch of service, rank, place of service and your service identification number. With this information the funeral director should be able to confirm your service and type of discharge.
Fourth, discover what other benefits for which you maybe eligible, as you may be eligible for a grave marker or funeral funds.
Lastly, in your last will and testament, identify who has the legal right to make the arrangements for your funeral and then clearly explain what you want to this person. If there is some disagreement after your death, the funeral representative you appointed in your Will is given the power to make sure your wishes are carried out. This will prevent possible litigation between family members who may disagree about your funeral arrangements. If you have correctly appointed a funeral representative in your Will, that is the person the funeral director or, if necessary, a judge, will recognize as having the right to plan your funeral.
If you need assistance with an estate plan or have questions about Will Contests, please call one of our will challenge lawyers or estate planning attorneys for a free consultation. Our Will Attorneys and Will challenge attorneys have extensive experience in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida, so if your will question is in any of these states, feel free to contact us.